When you’re working with viscous materials and using them to create 3D prints, things can get messy. No matter what model of 3D printer you own, everything you make starts at the printer bed. This is the foundation where the print starts, building your 3D models from the bottom up. It also means that the bed needs to be cleaned periodically to get the best results.
If the printing bed is dirty, your next print won’t stick to the bed. Bed adhesion is important to the printing process as it keeps the printed object stabilized while it’s being formed. This means your printed items will detach during the print, so you may waste materials and need to start over again. There are other things you can do to improve bed adhesion but one of the best, and easiest, is to keep the bed clean.
Here we have covered the best cleaning techniques for three common printing bed covers – PEI, glass, and tape. Remember to remove the bed from the printer at large, so any spills or mistakes don’t damage the expensive machinery you’re working with!
In 3D printing, it’s popular to use PEI as a bed adhesive sheet. PEI is short for polyetherimide, a semi-transparent thermoplastic that is relatively cheap, where 3D printer parts are considered. It will break before some other materials and has lower usable temperatures, but it’s simple, gets the job done, and is popular in printing communities.
When the printed object cools, it can be easily removed from a bed that’s covered with a PEI sheet. During the print, however, it’ll hold the printed item securely in place. They’re very simple to use, with most sheets coming with their own adhesive on one face, so you don’t need to glue or tape it to the 3D printer yourself. That’s why PEI is a favorite for beginners.
It does need extra maintenance, which is why you should clean it after each use when possible. To clean the sheet, wipe it with an IPA frequently. The sheet should be cool and the IPA should preferably be unscented and 70% or over in strength. Use a cloth to wipe it onto the surface.
For a deeper clean, you should occasionally use acetone to dissolve excess plastics that have built up on the sheet. Acetone is flammable and can damage those who inhale too much, along with your printer parts, so use it in a ventilated area away from the rest of the printer. You can also use 1,500-grit sandpaper to smooth out scratches and blemishes that come with prolonged use.
You can clean the PEI sheet often but you’ll still need to replace it after they become too worn.
Maybe your printing bed is made of glass, in which case you’re working with a smooth, even surface that is stronger than PEI and uses glue sticks or some hairspray to create adhesion. Glass doesn’t have many adhesive properties of its own, so you should treat it to make it stickier. If you want a perfectly smooth surface at the bottom of your print, you can’t go wrong with a glass printing bed.
Like any other bed, it also needs to be cleaned. If you’ve ever touched glass before, you already know that it collects all the oils and residues that may be on your fingers. Then you’re also adding glue or hairspray, both non-solid chemical adhesives that will build up over time.
The fastest way you can clean glass is by scraping it. Get a dedicated scraper that you don’t use for anything else, so you don’t mark the bed or bring any debris onto the printer. Unlike PEI, you should make sure the bed is heated so that the sticky residue is easier to remove.
Then it’s just as simple as scraping the surface until no visible adhesive is left. Do this carefully, otherwise, you could hurt yourself or damage the printer if the scraper is sharp enough. When scraping, you should use one hand to maneuver the scraper handle while pressing down in the middle to get the necessary pressure to remove the glue.
If scraping doesn’t work for you, you can also scrub the glass using warm water and a little bit of soap. You can only do this if the printer bed can be removed from the printer, otherwise, you’ll need to rely on the scraper. You’ll need to apply more pressure than you usually would when scrubbing plates but remember that you’re holding glass, so be careful.
If you have IPA, you can also use sterilized alcohol pads to dissolve residue and add some shine to a glass printing surface.
Lastly, it’s common for people to add adhesive to non-heated printing beds by lining them with tape. Which tape? Painter’s tape typically yields the best results and is easiest to work with. You can also use masking tape or Kapton tape, as long as you stay away from hardier tapes like duct tape. Using tape is cheap and easy, but it can peel more often and require maintenance.
So, how do you clean tape? You can take a scraper or a spatula to tape but you may find that the tape peels away sometimes. When that happens, you should replace the tape and make sure the bed is flat, even, and has a consistent adhesive covering.
At a certain point, it’ll be better to replace the entire tape covering instead of trying to save a ragged bed. If you do this, remember to clean the bed beneath the tape and take some soapy, hot water to it before adding your new tape layer. This ensures it’s clean, so the new tape adheres properly and won’t come away during a print. Try to keep the new tape in as few pieces as possible, as the connective points are where tears will happen.
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